On Thursday October 11, legendary Frenchman Gregory Gaultier limped off court after an epic five-game, 74-minute battle with current World No.1 Ali Farag despite nursing a broken bone in his knee – the 36-year-old hasn’t been seen on court since.
What followed has been a gruelling 10-month period of rehabilitation, requiring multiple surgeries and setbacks, but the former World No.1 and World Champion is determined to return to court.
Read the first part of our exclusive interview with the charismatic ‘French General’ below, in which he discusses the injury, his rehab, and the mental difficulty of being forced into an extended break from the sport he has dedicated his life to.
Greg, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Firstly, how is your recovery going?
Gaultier: “I just got off my crutches 10 days ago, so it’s still fresh. I had my second surgery on May 15, and I had to stay on crutches for eight or nine weeks because when I was at the U.S. Open, I was playing through pain. I didn’t know what I had exactly, I thought it was just inflammation, but I couldn’t even walk up the stairs to the glass court, I had to take the elevator.
“I could barely warm up, then with the adrenaline I started pushing, and I played two matches like this. I played my first match against Chris Simpson, and that night I felt the pain. I couldn’t even practise during the days off, I was going to the physio for three, four hours a day, and I thought it was just inflammation like everyone experiences.
“I left the day after the quarter-final, had an MRI, and one piece of cartilage and bone was broken [in his knee]. The next day I had surgery in Czech Republic, and the cartilage that they inserted into the bone didn’t really heal well.
Gaultier - sporting strapping on his knee - lunges against Ali Farag during the 2018 U.S. Open quarter-finals
“I did rehab for a few months, did a lot of work, but it was up and down. Some weeks it was okay, other weeks I was in so much pain that I could barely walk.”
We're led to believe that your first surgery didn't quite go to plan – are you able to give us some insight into that?
Gaultier: “I had another checkup in Paris, we did another MRI, and we could see a micro-fracture in the same area.
“I had another surgery, another arthroscopy, and they actually shaved the cartilage again. I had to stay on crutches to try and heal, to wait for the cartilage to grow again. It’s really fresh because I’m trying to learn how to walk again properly. It seems simple, we’re used to walking since we were kids, but it’s so hard after surgery, you can’t do simple things anymore, it’s ridiculous.
“You have to learn again how to walk, how to go down the stairs, and you have to start from the beginning. I lost a lot of muscle mass, so I have to regain that, I’m having a lot of physio every single day. I still feel a little bit of pain, but it’s probably because it’s still fresh.
“I want to play again, I never wanted to quit this early, especially in this way. It’s very frustrating, I’m doing my rehab as well as possible, with the hope that I can step on the court again.
“I will take the time it needs, but I also have to think about after my career, I don’t want to be handicapped.”
Gregory Gaultier became World Champion in 2015
How difficult has the time away been mentally?
Gaultier: “I’ve had a lot of injuries throughout my career, but never like this. The season before, I had a lot of injuries like my ankle and my adductor, but I could still play. I only played for half of the season, I only played six or seven tournaments, but I was still ranked at six or seven in the world. I played a couple of semi-finals, but I never turned up at the tournaments fully prepared because I was always coming back from injuries.
“I was always catching up, the more I was playing in the events, the more I was building up my fitness. I’ve been playing for 30 years, so you’re not always at 100 per cent of your fitness capacity, but you know the game and you can still play okay. I had to work a bit differently, I’ve had to do more gym work and less impact work to save my body.
“It’s frustrating to have such a big injury. When you see people playing and you’re just a spectator, you feel like you should be there. I try to put my energy and focus into what I have to do or otherwise you feel frustrated.
“You try to stay positive by setting up small targets. At the moment I’m trying to do put more muscle on my leg and trying to heal my knee correctly, so you have to take things step by step until you see the end of the tunnel.”
On the flip side, has it been nice to spend more time with your family? Are there any other things that you have been able to do given that you've not been touring all the time?
Gaultier: “My days are kind of the same as when I was training. In the morning, I have three and a half hours of rehab with the physio, then after that I’m in the gym, so I’m out of the house quite a bit.
“But I can stay with my family rather than being away on the tour for six or seven months. It’s been nice to see my kids growing up, being able to do things with them, and it’s a different way of seeing the positive things.”
Keep an eye out for part two of our exclusive interview, which will be published on Monday August 12, in which Gaultier discusses his comeback and the current standard of play on the PSA Tour.